Students' perceptions of terrascope, a project-based freshman learning community

Alberta Lipson, Ari W. Epstein, Rafael Bras, Kip Hodges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


We present a descriptive case study of Terrascope, an innovative, year-long, project-based learning community at MIT. Each year, Terrascope students study a particular environmental or Earth-system problem from a multidisciplinary perspective. Terrascope includes both academic and non-academic components; this paper focuses on the academic components. The objectives of the academic subjects, and of the program as a whole, involve helping students develop their team-building, communication, problem-solving, and self-regulatory learning skills. This study focuses on cohorts of students from the first and second years of the program (2002-2003 and 2003-2004); it is based on end-of-semester surveys and focus groups, and on additional focus groups conducted when these students were upperclassmen. Students felt Terrascope helped them make significant improvements in their ability to work in teams and to take on complex, multidisciplinary problems. They felt that the program's two-semester structure gave them an opportunity to develop and nurture these skills, and that the program prepared them well for their later work at MIT. They also felt that being engaged, as freshmen, in a distinct learning community, significantly eased their transition into MIT. We describe lessons learned in the development of Terrascope and offer suggestions for other institutions planning to develop similar programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-364
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Science Education and Technology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2007


  • Assessment
  • Environmental education
  • Experiential learning
  • Freshman
  • Interdisciplinary learning
  • Project-based learning
  • Self-directed learning
  • Teamwork

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Engineering


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